Creed as Gospel, Gospel as Creed

It is worth repeating: in much of Christian culture the word “gospel” and the word “salvation” are near equivalents. So much so that many think “preaching the gospel” and “preaching the plan of personal salvation” are one and the same. The contention of my book, The King Jesus Gospel, is that these two are not the same. My contention is that salvation flows from the gospel. The basic contention is that “gospeling” means declaring the Story about Jesus as God’s way in this world, through Israel, comes to fulfillment. The gospel is a message about Jesus, and that means getting Jesus right: it means seeing him as Messiah/King and Lord who rescues us and begins to establish the new creation.

One of the more remarkable discoveries for me in working on this gospel project was seeing the connection between the gospel of the New Testament with the Nicene Creed (Niceno-Constantinopolitan).

My questions for today: Should we bring back enthusiastic and informed recitation of the Creed in all Christian churches? If so, how can we do this? If not, why not?

First, many of us have been nurtured into an evangelical faith that despises the Creed. That’s harsh but that’s what I often hear. This disposition toward the Creed brings together a constellation of elements: some are reared in a creedal church where the Creed was recited monotonously and without meaning; then some “became Christians” and that meant chucking everything liturgical, including the Creed. In fact, some of us were nurtured in(to) a faith that says “No Creed but the Bible.”

But, but, but… Mindless recitation of the Creed is no worse than mindless reaction against the Creed.

I want to ask this: Do you think God guided the Church into what is undoubtedly the most celebrated and unifying theological statement in the history of the entire Church or not? What lines in the Creed — Apostles’ or Nicene — are unbiblical or unimportant?

Second, I often hear a “I don’t believe in creeds” from folks. My response is always “And what line in the Creed do you reject?” My guess is that 95% of the time people have nothing to say. That is, what is being said is not “I don’t like Nicea” but “I don’t trust creeds of any sorts, I believe the Bible.” This is an uninformed and tragic disposition toward creeds. I don’t say this because I’m addicted to creeds but because I believe in the Church and the Church has expressed itself well in its creeds. They are not infallible, but really we need to ask if what part of the Creed we don’t believe. [OK, descent into hell is one that many folks have disputed.]

Third, my contention is this: if you believe in the gospel of 1 Corinthians 15, not to mention pervasive themes in the Bible, then you will believe in the Nicene Creed. My contention is that the Nicene Creed fleshes out the gospel statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.

I’m going to ignore the historical development — you can read a sketch in my book (or you can read a little denser version in G. McDermott, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology (2010), pp. 195-208) — from Paul to Nicea, but you need perhaps to know that what Paul said in 1 Cor 15:3-5 was picked up and confessed in the baptismal liturgies of the church. To get baptized, you basically confessed the gospel (of 1 Cor 15!). It’s a fascinating history.

Instead of mapping that history, I quote the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Apostles’ Creed and then 1 Corinthians 15. What I think you will see is this: The Second Article of the Creed is little more than repetition of 1 Cor 15 — that is, Creed is gospel — but it more or less extends the gospel in 1 Cor 15 all the way to v. 28. Here’s the Second Article:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

The same connection to 1 Corinthians 15 is seen in the Second Article in  The Apostles’ Creed:

And [I believe] in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Much more could be said about this sketch of creedal history but this one thing needs to be observed: the Nicene Creed, as well as the regula fidei leading up to it, and the creeds that flowed out of Nicea, are not to be seen as exercises in theological sophistry or speculation but profoundly gospeling events. To recite the Creed for these early Christians was not to dabble in the theologically arcane but to articulate and confess – aloud and often – the gospel itself. To deny these creeds was to deny the gospel.

And now 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried,a that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, a and then to the Twelve.

I believe we need to work with our local church leaders to begin thinking about restoring the Creed into our public worship services. If you’d like to read my statement to this effect, check out G. Kalantzis, Evangelicals and the Early Church (2011), in which I have a chp on this topic.

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  • Scot, how would you react to a claim that the Creeds, in both concept and content, reflect Greek philosophical categories as much as Christianity? People who claim this are not rejecting the Creeds as untrue. They are rejecting instead the whole principle that the Christian faith can be summarised adequately in a simple set of propositions.

    The problem with reciting a Creed in church is that it encourages people to think that if they mentally assent to this they are good Christians, regardless of their general behaviour. Also it seems to me that there is a contradiction between this kind of codification and your “contention … that “gospeling” means declaring the Story about Jesus”. Our faith is not about propositional truths but about a Story, and we should make that clear in our worship services.

  • Paul W

    @Peter #1

    “The problem with reciting a Creed in church is that it encourages people to think that if they mentally assent to this they are good Christians, regardless of their general behaviour.”

    Are you serious?

  • rjs

    Peter, #1,

    I stumble over the descent into hell line in the Apostle’s Creed – but it has biblical roots. Beyond this the Apostles’s Creed is simply a recitation sketching the trinitarian God, the Story of Jesus, and the future hope. It leaves much out of course, but as a summary hits the essentials of the story.

    It’d be hard to convince me that the Apostle’s Creed reflects Greek philosophical categories as much or more than Christianity … unless you want to throw belief in the Trinity and virgin birth etc. into that category.

    The Nicene Creed has clarifications some of which seem to reflect Greek philosophical categories, but the essence is not really any different than the Apostle’s Creed. I think we should refuse to get hung up on these clarifications … but this isn’t to reject the creeds at all.

  • Alfred North Whitehead observed that it required intense imaginative thinking to formulate the creeds. Then when they were adopted, they put an end to creative thinking.
    It is ironic that Evangelicals, professing the adequacy of the inspired Scriptures but hampered by “pervasive interpretive pluralism”, have to turn to the creeds in order to find agreement on a few basic points.
    Perhaps it is better to admit that both the Scriptures and the creeds were the fruit of people doing their best to understand God in their own historical and philosophical contexts. Recognizing the full, flawed humanness of both frees our generation and future ones to continue the grappling rather than grasp for a God-given charter. Philip Jenkins’ Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years, on the formation of Chalcedonian Creed reveals what a very human process it was.
    A final note: elevating the creeds would tend to focus faith on the content of correct belief rather than on the process of a Jesus-shaped life, the one thing omitted by the creeds. Is this true to the spirit of Jesus?

  • nathan

    I think the Creed is great, should be a normative statement/filter for our understanding of scripture, etc.

    It’s a critical tool for Christians because it’s not simply enough to say “I believe the Bible”. The necessary question is then “What do you believe the Bible says?”…the answer is the Creed.

    The Creed brings us out of highly privatized fire-insurance religion into a broad sweeping affirmation of the action of God in the world and who that God is.

    To “greek categories”…
    The statements of the first and second articles are inescapably grounded in greek categories of substance ontology (or substance theory).

    this ontology was critiqued pretty devastatingly from Hume on…Rahner critiqued the substance theory that undergirds certain RCC doctrines…but ultimately it is the foundation of Trinitarian shared substance arguments.

    It would be great to hear if any other Christian thinkers have wrestled with this broadly and offered some kind of statement as to how to understand the language of the Creed.


    If any other Christian thinkers have mounted a defense of substance theory.

    One last thing, the infamous wikipedia has an interesting entry on substance ontology:

  • A Catholic friend tells me that a new catechism being prepared will change “descended into hell” to “descended to the dead/Hades”. He teaches doctrine in a Catholic high school and sees this as a welcome long overdue change.

    The 1 Corinthian 15 “creed” is still rooted in the narrative. Just as instructive are the sermons in Acts – Stephen’s, Peter in both Jerusalem and Cornelius’s house, etc. All rehearse in some form the narrative of promise, exodus, deliverance, prophetic hope.

    I/we love and use the Apostle’s Creed. In our setting we always have to explain the word “catholic”. But if another Christian can say the Apostle’s Creed and mean it, then we’re enough on the same page to recognize each other, doctrinally.

    That being said, I agree with Peter #1, the framing of the Creeds is Greek not Jewish, in ontological categories, not framed in the promise narrative of the people of God. The narrative is the DNA, and if we need a creed for our time, we first have to revisit the DNA, then say it fresh in our categories.

  • EricW


    Though I haven’t read your book, your posts about it caused me to do a search in Logos for ευαγγελιον, ευαγγελιζω, and ευαγγελιστης, which caused me to combine the search with βασιλεια, βασιλευς, and βασιλευω, since το ευαγγελιον is often connected to η βασιλεια του θεου/των ουρανων.

    Anyone who does the same should begin to see that “the Gospel” is not simply or primarily “the Four Spiritual Laws” or “the Romans Road” or “Penal Substitutionary Atonement.”

    Thanks for motivating the search and study!

  • I was going to say the confusion over hell (sheol/hades, not gehenna) and the confusion over catholic (small c, universal as in everywhere, ubiquitous, worldwide, not RCC) give a lot of people pause. The problem is not the creeds themselves but in lack of teaching about them. On another note, filioque in the Athanasian Creed also gave quite a number of people pause, as I recall.

  • Not personally, of course.

  • Scott W

    Regarding the confessing the Faith by means of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, grammatically,is not a matter of simple intellectual assent to dogma. The words “I believe in” are from the verb pisteuo + the prep. eis, which connoted not intellectual assent but trust in the object of the preposition. This same construction is reflected in John 14:1, normally translated as “You belive in God. Believe also in me” (NIV). This is translated more accurately in the new CEB thusly: “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me,” here rendered as an imperative but could also be just an indicative (which doesn’t affect the point made here).

    The point is that the Fathers were soaked in the NT and they worked from its logic in terms of how they spoke of the relationship of God (YHWH, the Father)to Jesus. The “One God,” “One Lord” structure of the Creed is taken from 1 Cor 8:6, which many contemporary NT scholars (e.g., NT Wright) see as a reshaping of the basic Jewish confession of the Shema in such a way as to put forth a “Christological monotheism” (James Dunn). The theology (and Faith!)of the Greek Fathers was more biblical and profound than that of so-called non-creedal Christians, make no mistake about it.

  • Jon G

    I think in principal, creeds are a great way to unify and summarize one’s beliefs, as well as promote unity amongst a group of believers.

    However, I struggle to recite this one because I, as a non-Trinitarian, feel it is more politically motivated than biblically based. I cringe every time I hear the phrase “Son of God” being used to mean something other than as a reference to the one who is acting on God’s (YHWH’s) behalf.

    To me the term is descriptive of vocation, not a person.

  • T

    I love your thesis of KJG, Scot, but I’m mixed on using the old creeds.

    As I’ve mentioned before, the creeds are great summaries of the gospel if his life doesn’t matter to our gospel, to Jesus’ story. But his life, I would argue, is especially important today: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” That part matters because that aspect of the Church’s own life and mission had to be “rediscovered” by what is now the fastest growing and largest subset of the global body: the Charismatic/Pentecostal branch. Given the inertia in the West against the supernatural and towards deism, I have no interest in doing anything to encourage that bent, and the old creeds do that.

    On different, smaller note, instead of a recitation of the creeds, I’d rather see a rotating reading of the various gospel passages you identified in your book. Not only would each one offer it’s own “angle” on the story, but I like the phrasings better, generally speaking.

  • Rick

    Mark Farmer #4-

    “Perhaps it is better to admit that both the Scriptures and the creeds were the fruit of people doing their best to understand God in their own historical and philosophical contexts.”

    So God had no role in inspiring Scripture?

    “A final note: elevating the creeds would tend to focus faith on the content of correct belief rather than on the process of a Jesus-shaped life, the one thing omitted by the creeds. Is this true to the spirit of Jesus?”

    No, it allows people to focus on Jesus, which is the point. The resulting benefit is transformation into a “Jesus-shaped life”

    I wonder if the gospel of soteriology, which Scot is correctly concerned about, is not alone. I wonder if there is also a gospel of orthopraxy, which (like salvation) is a resulting benefit of the gospel as seen in 1 Cor 15, but not spelled out in that gospel. The gospel is about Jesus and what He did.

  • Scott W

    Nathan (#5) writes:
    “I think the Creed is great, should be a normative statement/filter for our understanding of scripture, etc.

    It’s a critical tool for Christians because it’s not simply enough to say “I believe the Bible”. The necessary question is then “What do you believe the Bible says?”…the answer is the Creed.

    The Creed brings us out of highly privatized fire-insurance religion into a broad sweeping affirmation of the action of God in the world and who that God is.

    To “greek categories”…
    The statements of the first and second articles are inescapably grounded in greek categories of substance ontology (or substance theory).

    this ontology was critiqued pretty devastatingly from Hume on…Rahner critiqued the substance theory that undergirds certain RCC doctrines…but ultimately it is the foundation of Trinitarian shared substance arguments.

    It would be great to hear if any other Christian thinkers have wrestled with this broadly and offered some kind of statement as to how to understand the language of the Creed.”

    This way of viewing the Creed, though common, is not grounded in history; it betrays a lack of understanding of what the Creed is and what the Fathers were doing in elucidating the Faith in these words. Patristics scholar and Orthodox priest deals with issue head-on in his essay ‘The Paschal Foundation of Christian Theology’ which looks at the gospel roots of the Nicene Faith. Please read this!

  • My beef with the Apostle’s Creed is the “descended into hell.” Nicene’s better, but too wordy 😉

    I like the Rich Mullins version that skips the “catholic” (though it has the same hell problem).

    “I believe in the Holy Spirit
    One Holy Church, the communion of Saints
    The forgiveness of sin
    I believe in the resurrection
    I believe in a life that never ends”

  • RJS (#3), the Greek categories are more prominent in the Nicene Creed. But they are there even in the Apostle’s Creed, at least as understood in English translation as “I believe in the existence of…” more than “I entrust my life to…”

    I would also echo T’s point that the creeds ignore the life of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, presumably because these were seen as not relevant or not controversial at the time that the creeds were formulated. That should be a reminder to us that they are contextual documents, which need to be updated, if not completely replaced, to reflect the needs and concerns of each culture and period.

    Yes, Greek categories are even more prominent in “Christianity” if by that you mean doctrinally formulated Trinitarian orthodoxy. I am not rejecting that orthodoxy, but it is a very Greek way of looking at the truth.

    Perhaps we need more contextualised creeds like the Africanised Maasai creed quoted today by John Meunier.

  • rjs


    But isn’t the problem with our understanding of “I believe” rather than with the creeds themselves?

    “Repent and believe in me” doesn’t mean give intellectual assent to my existence. It means follow me…

    I believe in Father, Son, Spirit, and future hope isn’t intellectual assent to a series of propositions. It is a commitment to a story (or a bare bones sketch of a story) and to living within that story.

  • BradK

    What lines of the creed are unbiblical or unimportant? This may be a can of worms, but how would the earliest church have reacted to “eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
    begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father”?

    Fwiw, the older (or shorter) form of the Apostle’s Creed seems more in line with scripture. Less is more? 😉

    I believe in God the Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary; crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried; he rose from the dead on the third day; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, from where he shall come to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, (the life everlasting.)

  • John W Frye

    The Creeds are more than Greek distillations of the Story. When NT writers of Jesus cite a Psalm portion, they tend to have the message of the whole Psalm in mind (e.g., “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”). I take the lines of the creed as verbal capsules pregnant with a lot more truth than the line itself. “Born of the virgin Mary…crucified under Pontius Pilate…” is a merism signifying about Jesus *everything* between those two points, i.e., his whole, radical life.

  • RJS, I was brought up, in the Church of England, to understand the Creeds as a recitation of the propositions that I needed to believe to be true in order to be saved. This is made explicit in the “Athanasian Creed”, which we also recited on occasions, which starts

    WHOSOEVER will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.
    Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
    And the Catholick Faith is this:

    I don’t think we can change people’s understanding of the English language. But if the English “I believe in…” is not understood as the authors of the Creeds intended, what we need is a new translation. However, I don’t think that would meet all my concerns about the suitability of the Creeds for regular recitation in today’s typical contexts.

  • Aaron Perry

    My brother Tim and I explored the notion of reciting creed in light of Thomas’ “My Lord and My God” in our little book on the Ascension. (He Ascended into Heaven.)

    We argued that Thomas’ words encourage us the recitation of creed as it is a performative–it is language that does something. Far from mere mental assent, it is a kind of expression of loyalty to the story of the Creed and, as such, helps to form faith in the lives of its proclaimers.

  • T

    John (19),

    I’m glad you take the Creeds that way; I’m sure or at least hopeful that many do. But even the reformation that was born out of the tradition shaped by those creeds clearly didn’t. In fact, the one thing the reformers didn’t reform was the myopic focus on Jesus as sacrificial lamb. I just don’t see a church shaped by Jesus’ life. So I don’t see more use of the creeds as especially helpful.

  • Scot McKnight

    Mark Farmer,
    I would ask back: is it true to Paul in 1 Cor 15 or in Rom 10? Is their content to belief?

  • Jerry Sather


    I think our churches would be far more “biblical” if we said the creed. In older traditions of the Anglican communion the creed was said before the sermon. Someone told me that it served as a “framing” for the preached word–that is, the sermon should be consistent with the creed.

  • Scot McKnight

    Ach, make that “there” … iPads, small keyboard… sorry.

    Peter and T, yes there is Greek stuff present; big deal because all things are contextual, so I would ask what is wrong with some Greek philosophical thinking if it sharpens our perceptions?
    Yes, too, that polemics did shape what is present, and the issues were relationship of Father and Son, deity of Christ, and not so much Spirit. Yes, too, not enough on life of Jesus … but that takes us back to 1 Cor 15 again, where it is implied and assumed, and I give the same break to the fathers for whom the life of Jesus was very clearly present… they preach much from the Gospels.

    BradK, begotten of the Father, of course, is Johannine and “eternal” is designed to counter Arianism.

  • BradK

    Scot, of course begotten of the Father is Johannine. But you understand what I am asking here. If someone walked up to the apostles in 34 AD and asked them if they believed the doctrine of the Trinity, if they believed that Jesus was God, who pre-existed and created the universe, what would have been the response? How important can the part I quoted “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father” really be if the apostles and the early church didn’t believe it?

  • Scot, as Dean Inge said, “The Church which is married to the Spirit of its Age will be a widow in the next”. Well, the age of rationalism based on Greek philosophy is over, at least outside academic circles. So if the church doesn’t divorce itself from “Greek philosophical thinking”, at least any parts of it which aren’t authentically Christian, it will soon be a widow. For better or for worse, most churches which use traditional liturgies are shrinking, whereas many non-liturgical churches are growing. This won’t be reversed by reciting outdated creeds.

  • T


    Having Spirit and the life of Christ as assumed is great, if the assumption is shared. I think we have more than enough reason to think that it will not be shared. Further, though, creeds are statements that highlight and emphasize some things over others. Things that are “assumed” are often not, and worse, they are de-emphasized. The last thing the Church in the West needs right now is to de-emphasize the life of Jesus and/or the Spirit.

    And, you know the issue I have with saying, “See, I Cor. 15 didn’t mention those things either.”

    If the gospel is the full story of Jesus, then our point of reference should be the gospels, not a passage that highlights a specific part of that story to deal with a very specific error. And the gospels give considerable attention (half or more of the gospels!) to Christ’s Spirit-empowered, Father-led life. We fail to mention that, fail to emphasize that, at our own peril.

  • Travis Greene

    Isn’t some of the pushback against the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed the nature and history of its construction? It’s not as if the someone just decided it would be a good thing to write; the emperor of Rome called the bishops together because religious disputes were bad for his empire. It’s quite possible, even for Anabaptist-minded or anti-Constantinian folk, to believe the political background of the creed was orchestrated by God and the Council arrived at the truth even under a slightly fishy procedural situation. But even so it has to be taken into account.

  • scotmcknight


    Thanks. I believe 1Cor 15 is adequate. And Acts 10:34-43 draws out more. So Nicea is adequate and the Gispels draw out more. I prefer not to talk of what Nicea doesn’t have and to see it for what it does. No creed does everything.

  • scotmcknight

    Travis. I’ll take this one step further. I don’t want to blame God for Constantine but to see Nicea’s theology as a universal creed in spite of the complicities in empire.

  • Dana Ames

    The Nic./Const. creed is the best summary there is of the meaning of The Story. N.T. Wright likens the creeds to a suitcase, which is useful for transporting things from one place to another, and when you have arrived you have to unpack…

    On “Greek philosophical categories”:
    Greek was the language of the east. It would make sense that those writing and thinking in Greek would use Greek vocabulary and word forms in attempting to express meaning. This does not necessarily mean that philosophical categories were imported into Christianity. That Greek vocabulary also became infused with the intrinsic Jewish-ness of the Christian narrative and announcement, as per Scot’s book, and would necessarily take on new conceptual “definitions” because of that infusion. Some Greek fathers, esp John Chrysostom who was from the Levant, were aware of this, even if they didn’t always articulate it precisely. I bet if we were able to converse with the Greek fathers (and even Jerome, who spent years in Palestine learning Hebrew), they would set us straight on that score very quickly. They recognized that Plato had a few good ideas, but eastern theology was not essentially platonic, and it developed in a way that expressed things about relationships.

    From the Wikipedia article on substance theory:
    “In the millennia-old Aristotelian tradition, as well as early modern traditions that follow it, substances or ousia are treated as having attributes and modes or things.”

    This is not a description of the Eastern understanding of ‘ousia’. The word took on a different definition than Aristotle’s. Read (pseudo)Dionysius the Aeropagite… The moment one applies the concept of “attributes” to God’s “essence”, that is the moment in which we are talking about something that is not God. That which God “is” is beyond conceptual, categorizing knowledge. It is able to be known, but only in the *relationship* of persons. You can’t stop with ousia; you have to go on to hypostasis, and then to energia, neither of which, to my knowledge, are Greek philosophical categories.

    Mark said, “Elevating the creeds would tend to focus faith on the content of correct belief rather than on the process of a Jesus-shaped life…” I find this no different than in non-creedal churches that focus faith on the content of correct belief.

    As regards “a Jesus-shaped life, the one thing omitted by the creeds”, or to Wright’s view that nothing of Jesus’ actual life is expressed in the creed, I would offer that a thorough “unpacking” the phrase “whose kingdom shall have no end” would be more than enough to cover these objections. Also, good point by John Frye @19 re merism (I learned a new word today!).

    Scott W, @10 – well said.


  • TJJ

    I have no problem with creeds per se. Recognizing a summary of belief/doctrine/theology that all that are gathered agree to and affirm together, has value.

    However, what I have problems with is what such often comes to.

    I grew up in a mainline denomination where the entire order of worship was written and printed and recited, except for the sermon. Every week the order/framework the same: creeds, responsive readings, prayers of confession, etc. Because of the repetition, the frequency, it all became rather mindless, emotionless, rote, and mostly, quite vain, vain as in vanity, useless, meaningless.

    When you grow up in that enviorment, you see it, in your parents, in other adults in the parish, even more….you feel it. It comes to mean nothing, to touch nothing, to inspire nothing. Dead doctrine.

    It was the primary reason I quite attending any church for a period of time in early adulthood. To me, it was worse, much worse, than not believing at all.

    That was my experience with creeds.

  • Steph

    In response to #27, I don’t think people out looking for a church to be a part of are saying, “Aaargh, I can’t have anything to do with that Greek philosophical thinking” when they react negatively to a church that recites a Creed.

    I’m not sure whether we’re discussing resistance to the Creeds among the masses here, or among a smaller group, but among the masses I think the problem with “reciting outdated creeds” (#27) is not with “outdated” but with “reciting.”

    If someone does want to bring back (or bring in) the Creeds, I think it would be good if it didn’t depend *every* Sunday on choral recitation by the congregation. A multi-pronged approach would be better.

    (The problem is not even with memorizing/reciting but with choral reading. Most people have retained a capacity for memorizing and for close reading of a text, but few of us are equipped to handled monotonous delivery. We are all of us performers.)

  • scotmcknight

    The problem with recitation is the mental and spiritual condition of the person saying something not meant. Jesus commanded recitation of the Lords Prayer. I take it that he thought endless recitation was a good thing.

    Take a deep breath and ask yourself if saying I love you is monotonous.

  • Robert

    I think the Nicene Creed is a natural development from the Gospel story, within a specific historical and cultural matrix. I don’t think it was inevitable. I also think there’s stuff in it which isn’t in the Bible. I’d say that if anything there’s more Biblical ‘evidence’ (I might dispute its applicability) for homoiousios than homoousios.

  • Steph

    TJJ has posted since I started typing my comment. Ditto to what he said, even though I didn’t grow up mainline.

    What interests me is why so many evangelicals are becoming Roman Catholic. I disagreed with the post a day or two ago that said they were being drawn by the strong authority structures that exist there, but I have no basis from which to refute that viewpoint. In other words, it may be an accurate portrayal, but one other aspect of truth here would be that they are being drawn by its liturgy. I see them (via the Internet) emphasizing beauty and history (traditions that connect the present to the past, I guess) as well as responding to the centrality of the Eucharist to the service.

    So, why the draw to the RC church and its liturgy and not to the mainline churches and theirs?

  • Steph

    Ha ha ha. Okay. But I am breathing.

  • scotmcknight

    Steph, I wrote on this very theme in a book called Finding Faith, Losing Faith. Liturgy was a minor feature; authority was #1.

  • nathan

    @Scott W and Dana,

    thanks for the interaction, I think your responses embody the age old discussions between West and East around this common set of affirmations. You have the resources of the Eastern tradition and how they clarify, and offer a critique of the western deployment of the Creed. That being said, the substance ontology–as filtered through Aristotle–is still what is at play within the RCC and what western protestants are reacting/interacting to and with.

    We would do well to hear the nuancing witness of the Eastern tradition.

  • Barb

    being a life-long Presbyterian I truly didn’t know that there were churches that were anti-creed until I read about them here. I’m not sure why the negativity. The creeds are a beautiful way to help us remember “what we believe” and to connect to the “invisible church” over all time and over all the world. We don’t say a creed every Sunday (we do recite the Lord’s prayer) but when we do say a creed together it is a very connecting type of experience.

  • TJJ


    Is that really what Jesus was doing, teaching his disciples, and us by extention, endless and repetitive recitation of a prescribed prayer? Really? My take on that passage of scripture is quite different.

    As far as saying I love you…..words are significant, but I think Forrest Gump had it right…Love is as Love does, much more so than words said. The potential pitfall remains…the idea that because words have been said, a thing has been done.

  • As I have made a move toward the neo-monastic, especially the Celtic traditions, I have found a deep and fresh expression of what I know and trust in my heart — after 50 years of loving God and following Jesus. I agree with Scot that the “vain repetition” is in many ways an issue of the heart.

    But I also agree with the statement that the problem is not with the creeds, per se, but with the fact that they are “vainly repeated” without being thoughtfully unpacked and put into their proper context. This means that they are frequently a “check list” — leading to simplistic thinking about the deep things of faith.

    And when it comes to Greek and Hebrew philosophical perspectives, it is important to be able to use the Greek words to explain Hebrew concepts. This is another way in which the thoroughness of teaching is necessary to show the difference that was being presented with many of these terms — Paul frequently was bringing new meanings to old terms, just as Jesus brought new meanings to familiar teachings.

    I have been working on the deep, foundational Hebrew concept of cHesed for almost 20 years now … and I guess I may be ready to put in into some form that would fit a liturgical situation. But I find that the teaching of the concept is ongoing until the lightbulb comes on. Once cHesed lights up an individual’s heart, their whole orientation changes. This was the best part of my pastoral ministry of welcoming newcomers and helping them get their roots transplanted into the rich soil of cHesed which brings a joyous harvest.

    Blessings for a wonderful weekend, all.

  • Christian Reyes

    Truth without love is like creeds without deeds. Yet,love without truth is like deeds without creeds.
    Both creeds and deeds are what the world needs. At least that’s what I think.

  • kerry

    Not long ago I came home from church bothered by the sermon but was having trouble discerning exactly which element had so disturbed me. I asked myself the question “what do I believe?”.

    In response to my own question, I found myself reciting the Nicean creed memorised during a Catholic childhood. This was helpful because the creeds major on the majors, and as Scot has said, summarise the story. Problem clarified very neatly and quickly.

  • Jerry Sather

    As Scot said, the problem is not with the recitation but with the heart of the person reciting. I think there is also a disconnect between what some creedal churches say and what they actually believe. They may recite the creed every Sunday but do they believe. Tom Wright does a good job exploding this disconnect in Simply Jesus.

  • DRT

    Peggy, I don’t suppose we could get you to write a paragraph or two on cHesed, eh?

  • What is there to bring back in terms of the creeds. We calvinists often recite either the Apostles or Nicene creeds. The only issue I have is the filioque as I do not find that in scripture and so I simply am mute when that part of the creed comes up.

    Thanks for writing TKJG as now I have a better justification for what I already thought. Before reading TKJG if asked to present the gospel I would have needed half an hour (plus) and would have started in Genesis, to Israel, to life of Christ, to death and resurrection… I became a calvinist more than 30 years ago and often find that the issues you present are more relevant to churches that I attended prior to that time. Even in the plan of salvation I fail to see how the resurrection could possibly be left out.
    Dave W

  • Bev Mitchell

    From my reading, the best recent book on the Nicene Creed ( and the Trinity, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as the Incarnation, Atonement and the Resurrection, not to mention the Holy Spirit) is Paul D. Molnar’s “Thomas F. Torrance, Theologian of the Trinity”. A close second is “Retrieving Nicaea” by Khaled Anatolios. This trend back to a full understanding of the Creed is healthy. And who says repetition of the Creed has to be a mindless exercise. All the good things we say as evangelicals carry that, too often realized, potential. Well formulated creeds don’t kill, people do. We will always have to guard against the living faith of the dead becoming the dead faith of the living.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    So Scot, et. al.,
    If one asserts that the Apostles’ and Nicaean Creeds are valid restatements of The Gospel, however one justifies that belief, why would one not continue on through the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, Chalcedon, and onward? Oops, then where does one go from there, or for some, why go on to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan formulation, with its filioque? But why even go on from the Apostles’ Creed to Nicaea which asserts what is strictly NOT clearly biblically stated: that Christ the Son of God is “eternally begotten”? Sure, “begotten” is a biblical concept, but the “eternally begotten” is not explicitly part of the mix. NB: “In the beginning” does not say or explicitly say: “Before the beginning,” which is what the altogether reasonable (perhaps), but not explicitly stated, proposition of Nicaea asserts. Oh, horror of horrors: is it somehow possible that the Arians had just as much biblical warrant for their elaborations beyond Scripture as the Athanasians? Carefully check the texts, dudes and dudettes!

    In case there is any doubt, not all otherwise justifiably verified believers in, and followers of Jesus the Christ, find it necessary or appropriate to declare their faith in the church’s post Apostolic creeds.

    Why does the otherwise simply biblical Scot McKnight go from being a “Jesus Creed” kind of person to a “Jesus Creed Plus a Creed Or Two” kind of teacher? Well perhaps more than half of those leaving comments on this blog affirm that those extra-biblical statements are necessary for all true believers to affirm, and clearly it is nearly unanimous that all of those who consider themselves “evangelical” must affirm them, too, so it ain’t surprising.

    Well, hooray for “orthodoxy”! I know, I sound rather cynical. I admit I am altogether tired of this all too typical Protestant fence sitting; Sola Scriptura Plus Tradition has become the byword, but we are not being altogether honest or clear about what Tradition we are following. The Creeds, usually not clearly defined as to which, are clearly an implicit Magisterium for most Evangelical Protestants. This ought not be so, but it does seem like altogether too much of an impossible task to clarify why or why not.

    Just as there is no clear demarcation between a human embryo and a human person, there is no clear distinction between Sola Scriptura as source and Sola Scriptura as essence in regard to Authority. Evangelicals seem to think that The Creeds, however catalogued, are an equivalent authority alongside Scripture itself, and allow them to function as Magisterial principalities in most denominational and theological systems and discussions.

    Furthermore, although there are many reasons to trust in the authoritative leading of the Holy Spirit, faith in The Spirit’s leading doesn’t absolve us of responsiblity or guilt regarding our beliefs that go beyond The Word as embodied in Scripture. Nor can the leading of the Holy Spirit clarify which strand of tradition we should align ourselves with. Hence, what really is the problem with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura? Isn’t the issue really that every text, every statement, every translation, actually needs an interpreter whose experience mediates the text? Are we not in fact confronted at every theologically intellectual turn with the need to acknowledge that we all must become our own interpreters, in our contemporary believing communities, as submitted to God as we can be? In many ways it seems that the post-modern perspective is compelling, that there is no ground of certainty even in our individual experience, apart, that is, from a faith endowed relationship with God through trust in Christ and “in Christ,” however partially mediated that may be by our readings of Scripture.

    I hope and pray that this makes sense to some of you.

  • Not all of us here are evangelicals. I’m not for instance and affirm primo Scriptura rather than sola.
    Dave W

  • DRT — I have written dozens of posts on cHesed on my blog from many different angles…you might want to take a look.

    The gist is that cHesed is, for all intents and purposes, essentially covenant keeping: looking out for the best interest of the other, according to the covenant.

    The challenge comes with Hebrew being a more concept-based language — and Greek and English are more grammar-based, with complicated constructs of words. CHesed, in the OT, was translated a number of ways in the Greek version, because there were Greek words nuanced to aspects of cHesed. As a result, we need to collect the variety of words used and let them reflect the totality of the concept. I have come to believe that love/agape, grace/chairs and mercy/eleos represents the motivations for cHesed, while the resultant actions are observed as submission, service and initiative (leadership).

    The “one another’s” of scripture provide a pretty clear view of what looks like — and you can takechart listed in my blog sidebar. this looks like

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    OK, got a bit off track there towards the end, but to answer Scot’s question directly and hopefully more simply:

    I think the Apostles’ Creed is almost completely unobjectionable and there may be no harm in reciting it IMO. It does, however, seem to me at least possible that instead of “only begotten son” or “only son” we should read John as saying that Jesus was “uniquely begotten” and hence translate this Creed in that light. Quibbles, merely, though perhaps worthwhile.

    The Nicene Creed, because of the previously noted answering of the question not answered by scripture–whether Christ as Son of God is created or uncreated–should to my mind not be included for recitation. To repeat: to include the commonly accepted phrases “eternally begotten of the Father,” and “begotten, not made” should require the kind of Prophetic approbation and authority properly reserved for the Scriptural Words of God. Since not too many place the Nicene Symbol in that same category with Scripture, churches would do best to refrain from its recitation. Answering questions God hasn’t answered for us seems to me just a bit too presumptuous.

    PS: I don’t find it necessary or appropriate to identify myself as being “evangelical” either, but it is primarily among the more scrupulous amongst the Protestant “sola scriptura” folks that these questions find any traction at all.

  • ..sorry, my tablet went funky at the end…I meant to say I have a summary chart you can find in my sidebar, if you are interested.

    And we can always talk about it there, too. I have a number of creedish “rules” over there — things that encapsulate concepts for me.

    If I get something worked out that is more “poetic”, I will let Scot know about it….